CHAPTER TWO – FAMILY
Year: 2083, Fifty Years After Japan’s Destruction
Location: Wilmette, Illinois, USA
Tristan Price narrowed his eyes at his mother, Georgia, as he said, “But Mom, Jace and I have been planning this date for months!”
Georgia continued to stir the spaghetti sauce, not looking at her nineteen-year-old son. “Your brother’s birthday is the same day every year, Tristan. It’s not like it should be a surprise to you.”
Tristan crossed his arms over his chest. “Caleb is going to be eight! He doesn’t need me here. We’re just having spaghetti and cake anyways. His official party is tomorrow.”
“This is the family party, Tristan. And cake and spaghetti are what Caleb wants.” Georgia turned around to face him. She lifted the wooden spoon towards his lips. There was a steaming bit of sauce on the end. “Try this. Do you think it needs more salt?”
Tristan shook his head and pushed the spoon away. “I don’t care if it does. I’m not going to eat it. I’m going to be with Jace. It’s our six-month anniversary and I’m not missing it for Caleb’s stupid party!
“You’re not going to stay, Tris?” Caleb’s soft voice rose from the kitchen’s doorway.
Tristan whirled around to face his younger brother. Caleb had the same blond hair that he did, but while Tristan’s was long and hung in a braid down to his mid-back, Caleb’s was cut short and clung to his face in messy curls.
Tristan bit back an angry retort and felt a shard of guilt for calling Caleb’s party stupid. He loved his younger brother. Caleb had these big, doe-brown eyes and a cherubic mouth with the sweetest personality to match. “Jace and my anniversary is tonight. He’s got a big night planned for us. I’m going to be at your party tomorrow. I got you the best gift. I just … can’t be here tonight, okay?”
Caleb studied his face. Tristan’s cheeks flooded with heat. Part of the plan was for Jace and him to make love that night as Jace’s parents were gone and they had the whole house to themselves. He was so psyched about it that he worried everyone would be able to see it written on his face.
But whatever Caleb saw, he seemed to understand that this was really important to his older brother. “It’s okay, Mom. He’ll be here tomorrow. He doesn’t have to stay tonight.”
“No, Caleb. I’m sorry, but it’s not okay. Tristan, you’ve been spending every minute of your time with Jace. You’re going to college next year. We need as much family time as possible.” She put her hands on her ample hips as if that would settle the matter.
Anger spiked in Tristan’s veins. “Jace isn’t going to the same college I am. I have to spend as much time with him now so he knows that I’m serious about him.”
“He’s not family, Tristan,” she pointed out. “Even your Uncle Richard is going to come home for dinner between meetings. He’s not letting his beloved business stand in the way of Caleb’s birthday. He understands that family is more important than all that.”
Uncle Richard had moved in with them last month after his fifth marriage had collapsed and his shady business dealings had managed to throw him into bankruptcy for the second time. Tristan thought the lure of a free meal rather than family was what was bringing his uncle home between his various machinations to try and resurrect his fortune.
“Then there’s even less reason for me to be here,” Tristan snapped. “Caleb is fine with me going out. Dad and Uncle Richard won’t care whether I’m here or not. It’s just you who is giving me a hard time. You’re the only one who cares, Mom!”
Georgia looked at him with his brother’s brown eyes. “And I’m not enough? I’m not enough to stay home for dinner for one night?”
Tristan’s mouth opened and shut. That was like a punch to the gut. “I love you, Mom, but …”
“But?” she prodded.
“Things with Jace and me are really …” He bit his lower lip. He didn’t know how to describe it. One minute, Jace was so into him it was like there was no one else in the universe. Like when he was planning this anniversary. But then the next minute, he’d behave as if this relationship was no big deal since they weren’t going to the same school the next year and he should be free to play the field. Tristan felt like he was on a constant rollercoaster ride. He just wanted things to be good between them and if he blew off this anniversary date, he was sure that they wouldn’t be. “I have to go, Mom. I just have to.”
“You’re nineteen, Tristan. You’re an adult. It’s your decision. Your father and I won’t force you to be here,” she said, but there was a hurt look in her eyes. “But I hope that Jace is worth not being with your family tonight.”
Tristan looked down at Caleb’s head. His little brother was scuffing the kitchen floor with one foot. He looked back up at his mother’s stoic face. He felt a wave of guilt and anger. Why did his mother have to make this into such a big deal? Why did she always have to set things up as us versus them?
“I’m going to be with Jace tonight,” he said to her. She turned without a word back to the stove His shoulders slumped. Caleb gave him a soft smile. He ruffled his brother’s hair and kneeled down in front of him. “I promise I’ll be here the whole day tomorrow, okay?”
Caleb nodded. He had a smudge of dirt on one cheek and a scabby knee from playing outdoors. “It’s all right, Tris. I’ll see you tomorrow. Have fun with Jace.”
Tristan’s heart felt heavier with Caleb’s gentle understanding than from his mother’s guilt-trip. As he stood up, he hoped that his night with Jace was worth it.
I’ll make it up to them tomorrow. I’ll spend the whole weekend with the family. Mom will be thrilled.
He didn’t glance over his shoulder as he walked out of the kitchen. He barely waved to his father as he passed the man in the television room. The football game was on and his father was transfixed by the floating holographic screen that showed the players as large as life seeming to run through the room around the older man. Tristan wouldn’t remember the last words he spoke to his father later. He grabbed his motorcycle helmet and rushed out the front door expecting to find things just the same when he came back later that night.